An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
When I read this passage of Scripture, I can almost hear the panic in the voices of John's disciples. You can sense their concern that John (the prophet and teacher to whom they have dedicated their lives) is losing his influence. By reading between the lines a little, one even senses that there may be a certain amount of disdain for Jesus' presumption. "The one you testified about," they say. You were so gracious to Him. You honored and exalted Him and now He is encroaching on your turf! He is baptizing and people go to Him instead of you. This of course presents a real problem for John the Baptist who is kind of pigeon-holed into a certain ministry now. He is called John the Baptist after all.
John's response to his disciple's concern is truly remarkable. Like Job he acknowledges that all he has in life comes from God and ultimately all he has in life will return to God. John points out that the same is true for Jesus. "So if Jesus is receiving influence as mine is waning, then it is because God has chosen to take it away from me and give it to Him," John says. He continues with a wedding metaphor. "Jesus is the groom," he says. "I'm the best man." Does it make sense for the best man to be angry that the groom is getting married when he is not? No, it makes no sense. The best man should rejoice and be happy for his friend. So too, John says, "That joy is mine, and it is now complete." John knows that this isn't his story. He isn't the main character, but he can find joy in playing his part well. He dare not step out of line and try to steal the lead role from Jesus. In other words John says, "It's not about me!" How hard those four words are for us to accept and live by.
But it's the last line of this passage that draws attention to our error. John says, "He must become greater; I must become less." What John wanted more than anything in the world was for God's kingdom to advance in this world. Everything else in life was secondary to that goal, even John's own personal fulfillment and social standing. His disciples had momentarily lost sight of that. We sometimes do as well. We work so hard to get ahead at work, to build a life for our family, to build a program or Bible study at church that before we know it we get caught in the trap of thinking that these things are the end goal themselves. They are not. They are merely a means to the end of bringing glory to God and advancing the gospel. Sometimes the gospel advances when you are transferred to a lower paying position or when your hopes for your family are thwarted or even when your church doesn't keep pace with the growth of the church down the street. That is when you have to ask yourself, "Why do I serve God?"
So let me ask you, why do you serve God? Do you serve God to advance the cause of Christ simply because God deserves your faithful service? Or do you serve God to make a name for yourself? Do you serve Him to get ahead in life? Let me put it slightly differently, what is the most important thing in your life?
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